Is Oprah Winfrey supporting a very high-end finishing school for girls who terrorize and ridicule each other?
Winfrey’s very generous in her support of charities. Under her name, three funds totaling hundreds of millions of dollars dole out money to needy causes.
Among them: Miss Porter’s School in Connecticut, the fanciest of all girl’s finishing schools in the United States, alma mater of Jackie Kennedy. And recently profiled in Vanity Fair. Why? A group of girls have named themselves ‘ quite unfortunately for Winfrey ‘ the “Oprichniki.” They’re named not for the talk show host but after Tsar Ivan the Terrible‘s secret Russian police in the late 1500s. Vanity Fair says they’re the equivalent of Yale University’s famous secret society, “Skull & Bones.”
It’s important to note that Ivan’s wife, Maria, is credited in history with suggesting he set up this secret, violent police squad. Oprah should be so proud.
The magazine details the horrors the Oprichniki levels against its enemies at Miss Porter’s. According to the report, a former student ‘ accused of cheating ‘ is now suing the school claiming the Oprichniki terrorized and mocked her mercilessly. Their hazing practices are just a little more awful than the process of getting booked on ‘Oprah.’
What’s incredibly interesting about this: Oprah modeled her eponymous Leadership Academy in Johannesburg after Miss Porter’s. She sent her niece, Chrishaunda Lee, there in the 1990s. And Oprah ‘ who reportedly is taking her entire television crew on a Mediterranean cruise ‘ is in the middle of giving Miss Porter’s a $1 million donation.
There are three Oprah charities. The biggest one is the Oprah Winfrey Foundation. All three seem to only file tax returns in odd numbered years. The last filing available, which I reported on in my old column, was for 2005 but it wasn’t ready until 2007. The newest and only one since then is for 2007. According to it, the fair market value of the Oprah Winfrey Foundation’s assets is just over $234.4 million, up from $172 million in 2005. The foundation disbursed $1.8 million to about a dozen educational institutions in 2007, including the annual donation to Miss Porter’s and $250,000 to its African American counterpart, Maxine Mimms Academies of Tacoma, Washington.
The second charity is the Oprah Winfrey Operating Fund, with $69.2 million in total assets and has recently changed its name to reflect its primary recipient: the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy Foundation.
And then there’s the Angel Network, with $21 million in assets. Angel Network gave away over $5 million in 2007, to a variety of groups in southern Africa, as well as to organizations in Mississippi, including Habitat for Humanity. She also donated $300,000 to the American Library Association.
So it’s the continued interest in Miss Porter’s, and its connection to her Leadership Academy, that skews Oprah’s powerful charity work. There’s also the unfortunate same sounding name of the Oprichniki girls at Miss Porter’s considering the scandals at the Leadership Academy in Johannesburg. Currently, a trial is taking place in Joburg in which a former Academy dorm matron is accused of sexually molesting the girls from the school. The matron, Makopo, has pleaded not guilty. But to combat the bad publicity, this week Oprah arrived on campus with Thandie Newton, Kathy Freston, singer Katy Perry and some other celebrities for a week-long public celebration, open to the press.
Of course, since U.S. media ignores everything from Africa, even Oprah’s visit has remained absent from the pages of the magazines that would otherwise chronicle her weight gain, love life, or hairstyles.